In today's online and remote working world, the companies who adapt fastest usually come out the winners. Being able to act nimbly to catch new trends or increase production or deal with pandemic disruptions can mean the difference between swimming out in front or sinking to the bottom. But how do you enable your company to continually grow and adapt?
...by improving your productivity.
It’s all well and good talking about productivity and saying it needs to be better, but without a strategic approach to improving productivity, you’re never going to get the results you desire. In this article, I outline a 6-step strategy for implementing a robust productivity improvement strategy in your business.
Are you ready? It’s time to get productive.
Step 1: Align your strategic plan
Where do you want your business to be in five years time? What about in two years? Eighteen months?
Before you can even get stuck into the nuts and bolts of your productivity strategy, you need to understand the overarching strategic direction of your business. Only then can you understand where productivity improvements fit in your grand plans, and how best to implement these.
The key to a really successful strategic plan is to create a living document. This means that instead of writing out your five-year goals and then shoving them in a drawer, never to be looked upon again, you break the goals down into 5,3,2,1 year goals and create a 90-day plan for what has to be achieved each quarter. Refer back to this plan when making any business decision.
For more about creating a viable and actionable strategic plan, see this tutorial and template on Launch Solutions or read this blog about business planning.
Step 2: Run a productivity audit
Now that you have your strategic plan ready and a deeper understanding of the goals you’re shooting for, you need to go over all your business processes, department by department, to figure out where productivity improvements could be made.
This is a slow process, and could likely be done as part of a company-wide process review (where you also assessed tools, systems and other process-related activities).
What are some examples of productivity road blocks, black holes, and bottlenecks you should be keeping an eye out for?
- Double entry
- Slow admin processes
- Team members not using the full suite of features in a particular tool
- Key team members overloaded and unable to move work through pipeline
- Time-consuming methodologies
- Highly manual processes
And here are some tips for running a successful productivity audit:
Talk to your teams - If you’re taking a deep look at processes, you need to get on the ground with the people undertaking those processes every day.
Get each team together to go over their process and look for bottlenecks and areas where productivity could be improved. During the early stages of the audit these talks could be quite informal, so everyone feels comfortable with the discussion. You can create breakout discussions to look at specific issues / areas later on.
Focus on the problems - that may seem counter-intuitive as business advice usually encourages a solutions-focused approach, but this is one instance where discussion about solutions could derail the process.
Problems/friction points need to be identified in each functional area so they can be assessed across the whole business - and solutions need to be designed with the whole business in mind and the customer at heart.
Make your list, and check it twice.
From all the productivity discussion, identify a list of critical areas where productivity improvements would have the greatest impact. Order these items by most critical. Share the list with your key strategy team and invite feedback.
Remember your goals - it’s vital when making your list to consider which productivity improvements could have the biggest impact on your strategic goals. For example, there’s no point focusing on your customer service workflow if improvements to your production line could help you achieve your goal of increasing units shipped.
Step 3: Research and consider solutions
The research phase of your productivity strategy may be an extremely simple process – as you were conducting your productivity audit you may have noticed a familiar pattern across several departments. One single solution might solve a range of problems at once.
Or, things will be a little more complicated. You’ll need to implement a range of different strategies to manage productivity. In this situation, an outside opinion might provide some guidance, especially on the technology front. Find a WorkflowMax IT partner or cloud integrator in your town – they’ll be able to suggest a suite of cloud tools to dramatically improve your
When researching solutions to your productivity woes, consider:
Technology – this has become even more important if your team works remotely some or all of the time. Could your productivity problems be solved by rethinking your technology stack? Look at how your teams use technology for their processes, and pay particular attention to accounts, project management, document management and sharing, and inventory. What solutions are on the market to improve these areas?
Training – are your productivity drains occurring because staff lack training in the most efficient way to perform certain tasks? Look at areas where some extra professional development could solve your productivity issues.
Process – are cumbersome admin processes dragging down your usually productive time?
Outsourcing – look at the tasks each member of the team conducts. Are there tasks that could be outsourced for a cheaper cost? Get your people doing the work that brings in the top results, and use external workers to do the rest.
Economies of Scale – Are processes slow because you don’t have the economies of scale to shift things up a notch?
Strategic partnerships? – could a new arrangement benefit both parties and result in improved productivity across the board?
Step 4: Implement solutions
Now that you’ve come up with a list of potential solutions, you'll need to review budgets and allocated resources and narrow that list down to what can be implemented now.
When implementing any new system, it’s important to get staff buy-in, or you’ll find people quickly revert to their old habits. How do you implement successfully? Here are our tips:
Bring in an expert: If you’re setting up a software technology stack, then it pays to get an expert – such as a WorkflowMax IT partner – in to set up for you. Of course, you can do this yourself, but it will take a lot longer and may be less efficient, and we’re all about eliminating inefficiencies, aren’t we?
Provide Training: When implementing any kind of process change in your company, it’s important to ensure staff are adequately prepared for the transition. As different people respond to different training methods, it’s best to provide several options, including self-paced learning and more structured tutorials.
WorkflowMax, for example, offers FREE online training courses to enable a team to get up to speed on the product in their own time.
Be the Champion: If you team see you using and advocating the new system, they will be more proactive in picking it up and learning how it works. Be the change you want to see.
Incentivise Adoption: The human brain loves to work hard if a reward is on offer. What about a reward for the first team to successfully implement all the changes, or awarding a productivity star each month for a particularly well-performing individual.
Some teams provide rewards for the highest performing members each month. This can be a great way to build a highly productive environment, but make sure you’re not doing this at the expense of company culture – when members of a team are encouraged to aggressively compete against each other, it’s difficult to build a friendly, supportive and collaborative environment.
Step 5: Review and improve
You’ve done it! You’ve created your new productivity improvement strategy and put a new system in place. What else is there to do?
Now, you need to review what you’ve implemented, and see what’s working, and what isn’t.
Create a formal review process where every member of the team can feed back on how the new processes are working. Even if you see massive improvements across the board, there may be kinks that need to be worked out in order for the whole system to work more smoothly.
If your improvements also impact clients or customers, it could also be beneficial to survey them about their thoughts on the improvements.
Step 6: Create continuous improvement culture
Now that you’ve completed your review, and productivity is ramping up, you might be patting yourself on the back for a job well done. Don’t be so hasty!
Improving productivity is not something that should be done once and then left alone. You need to continually seek to wring the best work from your workers and your process.
Tracking productivity is the key to a continuous improvement culture. You need to understand what’s happening in order to improve upon it. One of the best ways to track employee productivity is through a project management software such as WorkflowMax. Your team can track their time against their jobs, and at the end of the month you can pull up reports and see staff performance against a range of variables. You’ll easily be able to see trends and areas that can be improved, and you’ll have the data you need to build productivity benchmarks.
Encourage your team to take an active role in improving productivity. One of the best ways to do this is to be open and visible with all your numbers. It can be a little scary sharing your stats with everyone in the company, but it enables your whole team to understand where you are and where you want to be. Ask for ideas on how you can reach the next goal – you never know who is going to come up with the next brilliant idea!
Productivity isn’t just about doing more things, more often. It’s a deeply strategic technique in working smarter towards achieving your goals. By creating and implementing an ongoing productivity improvement strategy, you'll ensure your business will continue to thrive and remain competitive.